Gourmandistan

Bringing out the old to ring in the new with rabbit and some colored-eye soup

Rabbit and pea soupOur version did not use black-eyed peas (instead it used yellow eyes), which we feel is OK because this post is not really about New Year’s. But, if you happen to have some dried beans, rabbit and bacon around when the calendar turns to 2016, we certainly think you’ll enjoy this dish.

This “hearty and hospitable” soup was featured in a mid- to late-1980s food magazine, unnamed in the photocopied page contained in Michelle’s old three-ring binder that Steve found while recently cleaning our bookshelves. (More of the many such shelves are due for a dusting, so who knows what Steve will find when he tackles that?) It was a creation of Susan Spicer, who was at the time operating the Bistro at Hotel Maison de Ville in New Orleans. Spicer went on to open Bayona, Herbsaint and other restaurants, write a cookbook and become quite famous. (The Janette Desautel character in the HBO series “Treme” was based on her.) We have not been to Bayona in a while, but we have been to New Orleans—which is one of the sneaky true subjects of this post.

Palm tree

As Gourmandistan lacks much in the way of religious tradition, we are always open for new ideas around the Christmas season, especially those that do not involve anything “churchy.” After our Thanksgiving meal, Michelle’s mother suggested a Christmas trip to New Orleans, which we immediately agreed sounded like a great idea. We did some research, made reservations and car rental arrangements and, a few weeks later, were on our way to the Big Easy.

We (that is, the two of us along with Michelle’s mom, dad and sister) had a lunch stop in Memphis where we met the delightful Jennifer Balink of Jenny’s Lark. (If you’re not reading her, you should be. Sign up now.) We met downtown at The Little Tea Shop—where, because of Jennifer, we were treated like royalty. Lunch passed quickly, much of it spent in the usual Southern pastime involving “do you know so and so who’s related to so and so?” which, enjoyably, extended via text messages for much of the afternoon long after lunch ended.

The Little Tea Shop

We spent a first stormy night in Natchez, Mississippi, missing the plantation tour because the rain continued the next day. We were lucky to also miss the terrible weather ravaging parts of the state to the north as we boomed down the highway in our outlandishly-sized rental SUV.  At the end of the day, we found ourselves at the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans. There, we enjoyed watching seemingly everyone in the city promenading through the extravagantly decorated lobby.

The next few days were spent dancing in Jackson Square, eating beignets (of course), listening to street music, shopping and (surprisingly to ourselves and everyone who knows us) doing a bit of gambling to pass the time.

We enjoyed wonderful meals at restaurants including the Italian Domenica (on Christmas Eve), the Israeli Shaya (on Christmas Day) and our longtime Cajun favorite, Cochon (twice).

After the holiday, we made it back to Michelle’s parents’ home in Western Kentucky in one long drive, with another stopover in Memphis, this time to enjoy some Jennifer-recommended Memphis barbecue for dinner. Returning to our own home farther north up the Ohio River the next day was a little problematic, as the torrential rains had pushed our creek to impassable levels. We made a detour and purchased ponchos and rubber boots, then hiked our way through the woods back to the house.

While still marooned the next day, Michelle decided to make this soup, partly because we happened to have the ingredients on hand. Some added pepper flakes and a cornbread side made it even more delicious.

Rabbit and pea soup

As we’re quite dull and not really that superstitious, our New Year’s celebration will be subdued and may not even feature black-eyed peas on the first day of 2016. Our hopes for the New Year include continuing our new “New Orleans Christmas” (or some other similar) tradition, and trying more recipes from Michelle’s pre-Internet Age recipe binder.

Of course, we wish you and yours the very, very best for the coming year as well.

RABBIT AND DRIED PEA SOUP

(adapted from a Susan Spicer recipe in some 1980s food magazine)

Marinade:

  • 1 rabbit (about 2-1/2 lbs.), cut up (you could substitute chicken, but it wouldn’t be as good)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 a medium onion, minced
  • 1 rib celery, minced
  • 1/2 c. dry white wine
  • 1/3 c. olive oil
  • 3 or 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper

Mix ingredients together in a baking dish just large enough to hold the rabbit. Cover and refrigerate overnight, stirring occasionally. The next day, bring to room temperature.

Soup:

  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 1 TB butter
  • 1/2 c. dry white wine
  • 2-1/2 c. water
  • 2 strips smoked bacon, chopped into lardons
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 1 rib celery, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • a couple of sprigs of parsley
  • 6 c. chicken stock
  • 1-1/2 c. dried peas (black-eyed, yellow-eyed, pink-eyed, crowders, etc.), picked over and rinsed
  • Salt and pepper
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Generous handful of chopped parsley

Drain the rabbit and pat it dry. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and butter in a large skillet. Add rabbit pieces and cook over medium high heat until browned, about 10 minutes. Remove rabbit to a plate. Pour off and discard most of the fat. Deglaze skillet with wine. Return rabbit to skillet, pour water over and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for about an hour until rabbit is tender.

While rabbit is cooking, heat remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a soup pot. Add bacon pieces and cook, stirring, until bacon is done. Remove bacon from pot and reserve. Remove all but about 1-1/2 tablespoons of fat. Add garlic, onion and celery and sauté until onion is soft. Add bacon back to the pot, along with bay leaf and parsley sprigs.

Pour in stock. Add dried peas. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered.

When rabbit is done, remove meat from skillet and let cool. Pour the cooking liquid into the bean pot. When cooled, remove rabbit meat from the bones and shred.

When peas are almost tender (it took our yellow eyed beans about 2 hours), add the rabbit meat and continue simmering until peas are done. Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Remove bay leaf and parsley sprigs. Stir in chopped parsley.

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32 comments

    • And to you also, Mouse. I was smiling earlier today at your “only Chinese people would intentionally choose Chinese food for a Christmas meal” post. We did it last year!

  1. Sounds like quite an adventure and nonetheless a great start for a new Christmas tradition. It´s great that you had Michelles family with you for the trip. And I adore your rabbit soup with the beans and the cornbread on the side, definitely worth of being part of a new tradition as well!

  2. Here at Food on Fifth in Nashville, Tennessee we cooked our traditional pot of black eyed pea soup with cornbread madeleines as usual. Each year I tweak the recipe and this years version was no different. Your recipe sounds great. Happy January 2016.

    • I’m hoping that yours, like Jennifer’s, have a wide-ranging effect, as we didn’t do the Southern tradition this year! Happy new year, Teresa. Looking forward to seeing the best of Nashville in the coming year!

  3. Love the soup recipe and your culinary adventures sound like lots of fun. That is, except the weather and high water… hopefully it has receded. Wishing you all the best in this new year.

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